I’ve never quite understood what people mean when they tell me that I have “too much time on my hands”. Part of me sarcastically thinks, “Hey, we all get the same amount of time each day. We all get twenty-four hours.” I suppose part of my confusion is that I never seem to have enough time to do the things that I want to do creatively. At present, I feel as though I have a lot of creative irons in the fire and sometimes have difficulty creating a balance between them all. This leads me to feel as though I don’t have enough time to give to each of my current creative endeavours. Balance is a topic of discussion for another time though.
I’ve been making dolls for almost thirty-five years in some way or another. At differing points along my creative path, I’ve viewed them as successful, and then alternately rubbish. Here lies the importance of practice. What I created as a child, was childish…amateurish, dare I say, folksy? With each successive doll, I learned something new about how the materials worked, or a new technique to use. My fine motor skills became more honed; muscle memory took root. I observe, learn and explore materials and techniques that are different from the ones that I currently use. I try them out. I keep the ones that work for me and adapt others to better fit my creative needs. This is a never ending procession. Observe. Practice. Observe. Critique. Practice. Repeat. This is what all artists do in pursuit of their own individual creative vision. Dancers, writers, painters, photographers, musicians, clothing designers, architects, illustrators, woodworkers, graphic designers; every single creative field does this.
When I was teaching elementary art, it left me unsettled that some young children think that to be good at something, like visual art, you must be born with some magical innate talent for it. It’s some rare and precious je nails se quois that they can never learn or develop over time. I would ask these students, “How do you get better at making a basket in basketball?” They would answer, “Practice.” and then sometimes go on to describe how long they spent shooting baskets the weekend before, or playing basketball with a friend or sibling. Some would go into great detail about how they learned to make a basket using a smaller child sized hoop, and then working up to an adult sized hoop. Some would talk about the game of basketball, giving me all kinds of details of the game mechanics as well as the stats of their favourite players and teams. I would say to them, “So, were you better after you practiced shooting baskets, or worse?” the answer was always, “Better!” (Sometimes teacher have to put the dots really close together, but again, a topic for another time.)
Art is no different. Practice makes all the difference. A person practicing making a three-point shot for hours is doing the same thing I’m doing when I change my stitches that hold a doll leg together, or try a new tool that helps in doll construction. The goal for each of us is the same; the pursuit of our personal best. Observe. Practice. Observe. Critique. Practice. Repeat. Yes. There are times when things don’t always go your way. New techniques are sometimes difficult to learn. Some materials just seem to refuse to cooperate and fall to pieces in your hands. The point is, you must keep practicing. Its not always easy. It’s not always fun, but in the end it’s worth it because you learn and you get better with each successive attempt.
I’ve had some people ask me if I am selling the dolls that I make. This seems like a natural question, being that in the past, I have sold my dolls and I’ve amassed quite a number of dolls recently. Why would I make so many dolls unless the end goal was to sell them? As I write this, I have sitting on my desk my most recently completed doll. She’s one of the 10 cm dolls that I have been working on during the past few weeks. I’ve made some changes to the pattern (I call it ‘tweaking the pattern’) as well as changing some of the hand sewing techniques as well as use of a new tool in the overall construction of the doll. I also changed the eyes around a little and used paint for the iris and pupil. The reasons for these changes were largely because I didn’t like how un-uniform some of my stitching looked on other dolls and I saw a technique used by another doll maker that I thought I would try. I decided to drop the use of buttons for the arm and leg joinery because I found them too bulky underneath the clothing as well as being a somewhat pricy material element that would never been seen. The same goes for using paint for the eyes. I have not done well using paint on felt, but I saw how another doll artist did it, and thought I would try her technique. Another doll maker gave me the idea for changing the way I make the pattern for the head and attach the ears. The end result doll was practice. What I call my alpha version. There were parts of creating this doll that I found a little exasperating because I was doing something new and different and my mind and hands would slip into long established methods. And guess what? I still want to change things about the next version of this doll. The next doll will be practice as well (beta version!). I will continue to tweak the pattern as well as my techniques as I continue this creative process of practice.
Practice is an invaluable tool to me as an artist. It’s much more complicated a process than what I have outlined as basically lots of observation, lots of practice and stoping to critique your techniques, materials and final products. There is so much more to the creative process in general, and my own creative process specifically. Observe, practice, critique, repeat, are just the largest cogs for me within a much more complicated machinations. My creativity begins in my imagination. My inner eye. That then spills over into my sketchbook where the idea can take shape. If I feel and idea isn’t ready to move beyond my sketchbook, it may stay there for quite a long time until it either bangs into something else in the sketchbook and then springs to life, or it simply stays there and is never comes to fruition (a very surrealistic methodology). Some ideas gnaw at my thoughts. These are the ones that sometimes I purposefully ignore. I call this the ‘Bradbury Method’. As a writer, Ray Bradbury once wrote that sometimes he would, ‘purposely ignore the latent beast until it was raving to be born‘ (this is badly paraphrased). At the point a creative imagining is raving to be born, it’s usually time to start work on it. That makes the process of creativity seem magical to some people I suppose. It seems as though the art simply springs forth fully formed from an artists head and lands on the canvas, page or cloth and that simply is not the case at all. All of those other fiddly bits? The complicated machinations? Those can take the form of hours of sketching. Searching for the right materials then sitting with the materials and effectively playing around with them to see if they will work. Stopping and talking to yourself about what you want to do, and then seeing that maaaaaybe the materials are taking you a different creative direction that you hadn’t thought of before. Those cogs of observation, practice and critique all have supporting structures of discussion, planning, knowledge and technique acquisition and a lot of thinking and thinking and thinking. Will this work? Why would I use this and not that? Can I make this work? Does this look the way I want it to look? Do I need to revise this? I do tend to have some rather long and intense internal dialogues with myself while I’m working.
During my masters research, I came across the book Studio Thinking. This is most often boiled down to the Eight Studio Habits of the Mind. You can go here to get a more in depth explanation of the book and the habits. This book and methodology are specifically for art educators, but in my opinion can be applied to any artist, no matter what age. My personal methods that I utilise for my own creative process are in some ways similar to the Eight Studio Habits I have linked to, they aren’t the same. Every artist has their own unique way of practicing their craft. I spend a lot of time observing, practicing and critiquing myself and it works for me.
So, yeah. I’ve made a lot of dolls. Some I will someday sell and others I won’t. Some I will give away as gifts to people, while some will be taken apart and the materials reused to make another doll, or something else. I need the practise.